Happy Birthday today to two iconic figures of hard rock, the firebreathing demon of KISS, Gene Simmons, and the wailing, high-pitched and demonic bottom-ended harbringer of all things early British heavy metal, Rob Halford of Judas Priest.
Both men are downright revolutionary in what they bring and continue to bring to their respective bands, although arguably Kiss and Judas Priest while certainly equally loved by fans of hard rock/heavy metal, are two decidedly different bands for sure.
Simmons was born Chaim Weitz in Haifa, Israel on August 25, 1949. It has been written that Simmons’ mother, Florence, and her brother Larry, survived the Holocaust a few years before Chaim was born. The Weitz family moved to Queens, New York when Chaim was 8 years old. By the time he was a teenager, he became known as Gene Simmons, and started tooling around in local bands, first one called Lynx, then The Missing Links, and others as well. About a half a decade went by when he formed Wicked Lester with himself on bass and buddy Stanley Harvey Eisen on rhythm guitar and lead vocals (Eisen also eventually sported a moniker change and became known as Paul Stanley.) Wicked Lester went through some crisis modes with their lineups and ended with the two disbanding that unit even though a record deal had been in place. For their next project, the two found a drummer in Peter Criscoula and a lead guitarist in Paul Frehley. THOSE two changed their names as well to Peter Criss and Ace Frehley respectively and thus the new quartet, known as KISS, was born.
KISS released their debut album in 1974 and soon after, found massive success, arguably there was no bigger American rock and roll band during the mid 1970s. With their extremely distinctive and shocking stage makeup and wardrobe, good time party rock and roll elevated to the highest decibels and shock antics, especially on stage, KISS dominated and punctured holes through a musical era that was mainly known for British rock and roll or singer/songwriter genres during that time. Simmons, with his spitting of blood, outrageous demon makeup, large elongated tongue that seemed to stretch for miles skyward, and pounding bass lines, became one of the more memorable and favorite of the quartet, and his theatrical histrionics nicely complemented the style of Paul Stanley, who under all that makeup, still remained and seemed like a nice, mellow, approachably friendly guy.
KISS’ appeal started to wane a bit as the 1980s rolled in, but they remain a true notch in the wall of sound that is hard rock and roll. Simmons also became a legend in his own right, and a public figure on his own in between stints in KISS, he acted in a few films sans the KISS makeup of course, and his relationship and eventual marriage to model/actress Shannon Tweed became the basis of a reality TV show, Gene Simmons Family Jewels, in which, like Ozzy Osbourne’s family had done on The Osbournes TV show, showed the day to day sometimes dramatic and silly over the top grind that was the Simmons family life. Gene Simmons remains to this day a curio to the newest fans of KISS and a legend to those who remember and grew up with him in the very beginning of his successful career.
Born in 1951, Rob Halford has been singing with Judas Priest off and on for almost 40 years now. He got his start growing up in England and lending his trademark vocals to bands such as Athens Wood, Lord Lucifer, Abraxas, and Hiroshima. He joined Judas Priest in the early 1970s. The single of their same named debut album “Rocka Rolla” debuted in 1974. Two years later, the seminal Priest album Sad Wings of Destiny, which is well renowned and considered one of the early heavy metal genres greatest triumphs, was released. That album, with its finger firmly affixed in a kind of supernatural, dark, foreboding swirling crunch by way of Black Sabbath, but also employing sounds that were also being slung through amplifiers by way of bands like Nazareth and even Sweet, propelled Judas Priest squarely in the middle of the heavy metal ring. Halford led the charge on the hair standing on end tracks such as “Victim of Changes,” “Tyrant,” “Dreamer Deceiver,” “Epitath,” and “Island of Domination.” A few more records followed and as the 1970s became the 1980s, they band trimmed their heavy indulgences a little bit and became leaner, yet the power still remained firmly plugged in the socket. 1980’s British Steel sported “hits” for the band, “Breaking the Law” and “Living After Midnight.” By the mid 1980s, they had success with tracks like “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” and “Turbo Lover,” both of which got radio airplay during that time on hard rock stations around the globe. Judas Priest ultimately went on to sell over 50 million albums worldwide.
Halford left the band afterwards and did some stints in other bands such as Fight, 2wo with Nine Inch Nails brainchild Trent Reznor, and even filled in for lead vocals on some gigs with Black Sabbath. He returned to Priest in 2003 and the band embarked on a final world tour last year. Halford has stated he will continue on with his solo band and the man has no plans of slowing down. Halford’s extremely high vocals and his distinctive look, leather bound, studded metallic ensembles of wardrobe are instant trademarks of the man. His admitted homosexuality in 1998 makes him credited as the first openly gay heavy metal star as well, something unprecedented and not seen since the likes of a Freddie Mercury from Queen, who also had an immense vocal range and versatility which made him unique and memorable in the world of music as well.
So Happy Birthday today to two giants of rock and roll, of music, each memorable in his own right, each supplying some of the more high profile ingredients to what made their respective bands a success, both bands sporting a fan base which still spreads to the rings of Saturn and back, to this very day. Happy birthday of the highest order today, to Gene Simmons and Rob Halford. Get out your CDs and crank those speakers till they explode today in celebration!